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By Ann Thompson
Vanessa Taylor is enough of a TV whiz–her writing credits include “Alias,” “Everwood” and “Tell Me You Love Me”–to land a co-executive producer spot on Seasons Two and Three of “Game of Thrones.” She’s the only woman in the room. But that was after she went off on her own, trying to combat a bout of writer’s block, to write original spec screenplay “Hope Springs.”
Along the way to getting that film made, she broke every rule. TV vet Taylor didn’t know what she was doing on the movie side. As far as she was concerned, this was a script that would wind up a tiny indie. “I didn’t care if it was commercial,” she insists. That may have been a blessing. Taylor showed the script to the wife of Film 360 manager Guymon Casady, who also read it, took on Taylor as a client, brought in fellow producer Todd Black, who sent the script to Meryl Streep. She jumped on board and brought on “The Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel. Then Sony backed the project, and Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell joined the cast. Sony opened the film August 8.
Taylor’s drama is about a middle-aged husband and wife lost in a marriage gone stale who see a therapist about livening things up. Unmarried and younger than her main characters, who are somewhat inspired by her divorced parents, Taylor read books about marriage and sex counseling, and checked in with her psychiatrist father. And she’s no stranger to the therapist’s couch, she admits. “I was interested in the question of intimacy and distance, when it creeps into a previously close relationship. Is it possible to bridge that distance, the physical and emotional of it? I wondered about it in my own life. These characters were my way in to exploring that. Their problems were so stark. I wanted to see if I could imagine them solving their problems. I didn’t know where I was going. I usually outline in a more detailed way.”
While Taylor knows how TV works, she feels like a “neophyte on the feature side,” she admits. “I find the feature side vastly more confusing, it seems more arbitrary, how it works. I’ve been in televison for long time, it makes sense to me. Moving from network to cable made sense. In the film world, I don’t entirely get it, I get totally lost. It just doesn’t seem to have the same predictable patterns.”
In television, says Taylor, you either fit a show or you don’t. “I’ve had times where I realized I was misplaced on a show, and could not hold my own, and was not long for that job. When you have something to say and you tap into it, you participate, it resonates with you. When it’s not that way, oh God!”
When she read the pilot for “Game of Thrones,” she told her agent she wanted to write on the show. “Hope Springs” landed her manager Casady, who happens to represent GOT’s David Benioff, so she met with the executive producers for the first season, who said they were full up but would add her for Season Two. “Sure enough they did,” says Taylor. “I was the only woman, there are only four to five of us.”
She says that “Game of Thrones” is not the usual writing room, as Benioff and D.B. Weiss write most of the ten scripts per season. She got to write two, and is now in the middle of Season Three. They all worked on the outline for Season Three during Season Two, and then got their assignments. While some people are drawn to certain characters, she writes an entire show, everything: “You’re supposed to be able to cover it all. It’s so crazy, breaking the story on note cards, into colors of stories. We thought it was six storylines, then seven, then nine.”
Taylor felt comfortable in the world from the start, but she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. “It was 50/50. But I love it. It is challenging. adapting the book. The TV series has a different tone, you flesh things out and expand the world. A lot of scenes go different ways, you’re locating what’s most interesting. It’s about clarity and streamlining.”
The toughest nut to crack, more than other shows: “transitions between the storylines, and bordering the episode.” She reordered her first script ten times. “You’re concerned with clarity, but you don’t want to hit audiences over the head.” When they get to books four and five, which eliminate certain popular GOT characters for the entire books, she figures they will probably divide the storylines differently, putting four and five together.
This August she returns to the set in Belfast, Northern Ireland to shoot Season Three.